The following are summaries of recent Times restaurant reviews by Max Jacobson. Prices are based on average dinner costs for a party of two without wine.
$ -- less than $15
$$ -- $15 to $39
$$$ -- $40 to $75
$$$$ -- more than $75
AMERICAN * Crocodile Cafe, Brea Marketplace, 975 E. Birch St., Brea. (714) 529-2233. Open Mondays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; weekends to 11 p.m. $$
Greg Smith is doing more than just promoting the new American cuisine; he's making it into a populist movement at this small, laughably inexpensive cafe. Enjoy wonderful hamburgers grilled over smoking embers of oak-wood-fired pizzas with designer toppings and trendy homemade pastas like fettuccine with roasted Pasilla chili and ancho-cream. Sip wines while sitting under the 30-foot vinyl crocodile. You can bet your Beamer that this restaurant is a good value.
CHINESE * Ten Hu, 315 S. Magnolia Ave., Anaheim. (714) 826-9910. Open Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays to 10 p.m. Closed Mondays. $
Ten Hu doesn't compare with Chinese restaurants in Chinatown or the San Gabriel Valley but that shouldn't put you off. Just remember that the steamed fish might be frozen. Winter melon soup with shredded chicken is a masterwork, and the Szechwan shrimps are particularly fine. It's primarily a seafood restaurant, but you may do just as well with the non-seafood items, such as the Peking spareribs or the mouth-watering rice noodle dishes. Stay away from the retro-Chinese standbys such as chop suey and egg foo yong. They're awful.
CONTINENTAL * Morell's, in the Irvine Hilton, 17900 Jamboree Road, Irvine. (714) 863-3111. Open Mondays through Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; daily except Sundays from 6 to 10 p.m. $$$
Morell's is one hotel restaurant making an obvious effort to keep up with the times, but one still comes away with the impression that institutional practices die hard. It's a quietly elegant room done up in various shades of pink and there is a formal quality to the service. Appetizers such as sweetbreads and smoked salmon are among the strong suits. Desserts are visual stunners. The basically sound main dishes suffer occasionally from a desire to impress.
FRENCH * Pascal, Plaza Newport, 1000 Bristol St., Newport Beach. (714) 752-0107. Open Mondays through Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Mondays through Thursdays from 6 to 9:30 p.m.; weekends to 10 p.m. Closed Sundays. No Saturday lunch. $$$
Pascal is the latest, brightest and most engaging of the small area restaurants serving unadulterated French cuisine. You don't have to worry about being terrorized by the waiters or cream-sauced to death in this charming country cottage. The chef, Pascal Olhats, has solid experience and uses nothing artificial in his kitchen. Don't miss a delightful Provencal fish soup appetizer or a lamb salad, redolent of sweet basil. An entree of sea bass, coated with thyme and served in a tomato coulis, is worth the trip. Desserts are light and guiltless.
ITALIAN * Ciao, 1730 E. 17th St., Santa Ana. (714) 972-3101. Open Mondays through Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. $$
Ciao is one of those indistinct little neighborhood restaurants you can drive by 100 times without noticing, but it happens to be an exceptional one. Bina Crivello, a Sicilian materfamilias who runs the restaurant with the help of her five sons, makes most of the food herself: crusty pizzas, earthy pastas and a good rich tomato sauce to go with them. Bring a hefty appetite and leave room for the excellent tiramisu --intense, mocha-rich and drooling mascarpone cheese.
* Ferrantelli, 25001 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point. (714) 493-1401. Open Mondays through Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Sundays through Thursdays from 5:30 to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays from 5:30 to 11 p.m. $$$
Ferrantelli is an engaging dockside pasta house that doesn't take a lot of chances but offers solid meals. The house antipasto, a stunning palette of color and taste, gives an idea of the type of effort the kitchen puts in with its limited skill. Pastas are fine, too, made fresh daily by Pasta Mia and embellished with a variety of good sauces. But the veal dishes are tasteless, and main courses are often sweet and cloying.